New insight into pre-Nazi Germany

I recently received an email from Felix de Taillez, a German scholar of European history.

My connection with Felix de Taillez started when he contacted the Gazette, saying that, on the Internet, he found some of my columns describing the relationship between Fritz Thyssen, the head of Germany's giant United Steelworks that controlled more than 75% of Germany's iron ore reserves and Emery Reves. He asked the editor of the Gazette to put him in touch with me.

Fritz Thyssen gained notoriety as the major financial supporter of the fledgling Nazi Party, and was instrumental in persuading Germany's President Paul von Hindenburg, to appoint Hitler chancellor in 1932. But once the Nazi dictatorship took hold, Thyssen became openly critical of the regime. He had to flee with his family to Switzerland, subsequently moving to Paris, where he met Emery Reves.

Reves was the president of Cooperation Publishing Co. Inc, an international newspaper syndicate. He was able to persuade Thyssen to put on paper his memoirs. Reves obtained the publishing rights, and "I Paid Hitler," was published in 1941.

Referring to my relationship with Reves, who after the Second World War become my mentor and friend, de Taillez remarked, "It is a great privilege to communicate with a contemporary witness." His extensive research dwelt deeply into the motives that guided Thyssen's actions.

I asked him, what new facts did his research reveal?

"My book is the first systematic study of the actions and perceptions of two of the most important members of the German economic elite. It demonstrates that the relations of the Thyssen brothers with the public were very different. Fritz Thyssen became a media personality in 1923 when he organized the "passive resistance" against the French–Belgian occupation of the Ruhr Valley, Germany's industrial heart. Fritz Thyssen got the image of a national hero.

De Taillez's research revealed that in 1931, Thyssen was invited to an important conference of American and European industrial leaders at Columbia University. He became a follower of the entrepreneurial ideal formulated by Edward L. Bernays, the pioneer in the field of public relations. Bernays advocated globalization and free trade. To attain this goal, Thyssen wanted to establish an anti-democratic authoritarian corporate state in Germany.

"The main reason why Thyssen became a public sympathizer of National Socialism in January 1932 was his hope in the restoration of political and economic stability in Germany, not racist or anti-Semitic reasons," he said

De Taillez found that the relationship between Fritz Thyssen and Emery Reves was a professional one. Reves media skills and his experience as a publisher and ghostwriter impressed him. He was also aware that Reves was a close collaborator and friend of Winston Churchill.

Fritz Thyssen, and his wife Amelia, were captured at the end of December 1940 in France, and handed over to the Gestapo. Reves, who was sent to the United States by British Prime Minister Churchill to do propaganda work on behalf of Britain, at first hesitated to publish Thyssen's memoirs.

He told me, "I wanted to avoid doing harm to Thyssen, but when I learned that Thyssen was already in German custody, and the Gestapo was aware of the existence of his memoir, I published the book. It became a publishing sensation in America."

De Taillez's research revealed that Reves very successfully, reactivated Thyssen's image as Hitler's main financial backer. "Reves was in contact with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and with William C. Bulitt, Jr., a well-known American diplomat and journalist, in order to realize a useful anti-Nazi media strategy in the Anglo-Saxon world," he said.

Shatz, a Williamsburg resident, is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place" a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and at Amazon.com.

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